This is the first time in years I’ve had a four day weekend off with no plans or commitments. It’s glorious. 

All I wanted to do was read as many books as possible and as of today, I’m on my 6th since Friday. I feel pretty strong about my chances of hitting my 100 books in 2017 goal. And I’m pleased that there’s been so much variety so far. 

I’ll write another post about what I’ve been reading specifically down the road, but for this post, it’s just about the ad  of reading. Specifically reading with nothing else to do. 

When I was a kid, nothing made me happier than opening a book in the morning and finishing it before I went to sleep. Especially if it’s a really fun and immersive book. 

I stayed up late last night reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It completely captured the magic inside to feel decadently crushing through a non-school book. The subject matter helped too since it’s so 1980s heavy and ludicrously intertextual. It brought up a lot of fond memories of time I spent alone. 

If I won the lottery or sold a screenplay for big bucks, I’d do this shit every day. 

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The last few weeks have been fairly intense. There’s no need to bore you with too many details: wedding, comedy shows, recording more podcasts, new job, dogs with diarrhea, purchasing major appliances. I’ve been pedal to the floor. 

It does feels a bit like the prequel to Fight Club, like how the narrator went crazy polishing his Scandinavian furniture. 

My time these days is almost completely accounted for, but I have made a good effort of seeing friends. Usually I’m pretty bad about it. If you’re reading this and thinking “what an asshole, I never get to see that guy,” well, I’ll try to do better. 

If you’re wondering how that whole writing a book thing is going, it’s not going. After leaving Whole Foods my interest in food culture got turned way down. Since The Goblin Chef is so rooted in food, that’s sort of a problem. I might revisit it eventually, but getting acclimated to tech and finishing up some projects I agreed to work on for other people is talking priority. 

But inspiration hasn’t abandoned me. I’ve written quite a bit in support of Scary Thoughts (very raw, not publishable). Most of that writing informs what I bring to our conversations. After I read The Argonauts, I started thinking a lot more about the possibilities of blending theory with biography. I haven’t quite figured out a way to make it less solipsistic. Maybe that’s impossible. 

Books and films, are as always, a source of inspiration, but what’s really breathing life into my ideas is my physical navigation of Oakland and the trains of the Bay Area. When I took this new job I thought I’d need a car, but it turns out I can save money and have more time to read on the trains. The grime of the city, which used to just bum me out has started to color my thoughts in unexpected ways: I’ve been writing short pieces, taking loads of photos. 

Hell, I’ve even gone out a bit more than usual. 

The proximity to my fellow primates has also put me in conversations I never thought I’d have. 

This morning I missed my train and spent about ten minutes in conversation with a dude in seriously rough shape. Two weeks ago he was helping a friend put a motor in an old Buick and their makeshift lift failed. He was under the car and his knee was crushed. 

He had surgery eight days earlier and showed me a scar that looked like something out of the Civil War. He needed help with his fare to Santa Rosa and I had a few bucks to spare. He said no one had given him a dollar since 4am. But what was most upsetting was no one even said a word to him. 

Now, I know the world is full of creeps and scammers, I’ve seen the same woman tell the same story about her kid being stuck at the same airport three times in the last year. But some people are in obvious need of help and it’s a shame we get so hardened. 

I don’t really have a prescription for this. No one does and it would be pretentious to assume you had the solutions (I’m looking at you boomer liberals). I think we can do better, though. 

This is a major change in my earlier outlook. I used to be a pretty hardcore social Darwinist. And in some ways I still am. If you’re an able bodied young gutter punk asking for beer money, I’d run you out of town like they did in the old west if I could. 

I guess you never really completely change. 


The picture above is from my first day at school. My mom, oddly fearful of people in the future not knowing who was pictured or what was going on, staged the scene with my name and a questionable “school” sign. This may be the first time I ever had to wear a nametag. 

My mom always says, “If you don’t have to wear a name tag at work, you really made it.”

By her standards I made it years ago, but by Bay Area standards, I’m in my second week of making it: I work for a tech company that’s paying me well. I’m still adjusting to the job, but it seems great so far and the switch to technical writing and editing from mostly sales and CPG copy has been stimulating. 

It’s been fun to see the Silicon Valley stereotypes up close. I take two trains to get in to the office and get a lot of people watching in. One of the things I’ve noticed is how popular fancier versions of the classic Clark’s desert boot are for men. I’ve always gone in for the regular beeswax brown or black leather options, but dudes down here wear all manner of oddly colored and contrast stitched shoes. 

Plaid shirts or branded t-shirts are the norm for men. Women tend towards modest and patterned business casual. They are, on the whole less schlubby than their male counterparts. 

All manner of accessories are employed to better manage the commute. I’ve seen a smorgasbord of laptop backpacks, motorized skateboards and noise cancellation headphones in the last two weeks. It’s like a Sharper Image couture show. 

Personally, I haven’t changed really anything about my gear, but I do have my eyes on some nicer headphones (piped in office music is extremely distracting to me when I’m writing) and those Mission Workshop bags look pretty sturdy. I’d like to get myself a cool bicycle built up, but my trusty old Diamondback is holding up just fine. 

borges
The magnificent author Jean Luis Borges.

I like to give myself annual challenges. Last year I set out to write a blog post every day for a year. After the success of that project I set my sights on something equally as intellectually enriching. For 2017 I would read 100 books.

I came to this number because I saw quite a few people who set 50 as their goal and I have become increasingly competitive in just about every pursuit I value.

As of today I’m halfway there and 13 days ahead of schedule. There’s no particular guiding theme behind what I read. I own and frequently purchase books that are both old and new. I seem to have a habit of reading personal development books, but I enjoy fiction and memoir more. Interestingly enough, I think I’ve read more female authors this year than in any before it.

I spend time with a lot of books on business, writing, editing, and marketing because it’s my career and I believe you should be constantly increasing whatever skills put food on your plate, a roof over your head and ammo in the magazine. I stumbled into a pretty good career and now that I’m making a fairly substantial income (for me), I aim to become world class.

What humans do in extreme situations is of some interest to me, which is why I really enjoy war and addiction books.

If someone gives me a book to read, I’ll usually bump it up to the top of my list, though I don’t often follow up on suggestions unless the person is also a writer or an equally heavy reader. Another frequent influence on my list is my podcast, Scary Thoughts. Most of the philosophy and criticism I’ve read in the last year eventually shows up on the show.

A lot of people seem to think this is a brutally difficult goal, but it’s really not. It takes an average of a book every 3.65 days. Some books are shorter, some are longer. If you spend a little time in the morning and don’t watch Netflix at night, you could do this too. I have a brutal train commute thanks to my new job, which will give me even more opportunity to rip through pages.

I feel like I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in my entire undergraduate course load. That line in Good Will Hunting about how you could get a better education than a Harvard one for some library late fees is legit. I actually wish I didn’t have such a fetish for owning books so I could enjoy just borrowing books. I’d save a ton of money.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what I’ve read so far (most recent first):

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Content Code by Mark W. Schaeffer
  • Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
  • Chief Marketing Officers at Work by Josh Steimle
  • Men, Women and Chainsaw: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol Clover
  • Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free by Cody Wilson
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life by JL Collins
  • The Like Switch: An FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over by Jack Scaefer, P.h.D. with Marvin Karlins, P.h.D
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney
  • Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash in On Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trial Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  • Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smalville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
  • Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke
  • A Long Slow Screw by Eugene S. Robinson
  • Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors by George W. Bush
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections by C. Anthony Martignetti
  • Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • I Remember the Last War by Bob Hoffman
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susanne
  • Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
  • Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Major Dick Winters
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  • Becoming a Barbarian by Jack Donovan
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley, P.h.D. and William D. Danko, P.h.D.
  • True Allegiance by Ben Shaprio
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  • Kamikaze:  A Japanese Pilot’s Own Spectacular Story of the Famous Suicide Squadrons by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
  • Hard-Core Life of My Own by Harley Flanagan
  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

 

 

 

 

 

Alameda_Food_Bank3

Mrs. Lott has a way of forcing me to do things I should do, but never actually make time to do. She was a big part of my decision to start taking classes at City College a decade ago. She encouraged me to go hard for this great new job I have. This morning we volunteered at the Alameda Food Bank, even though I desperately wanted to sleep in.

She signed us up about a month ago and I agreed, thinking I’d get out of it somehow.  We were up late last night at a party thrown at an insanely weird Airbnb in the Berkeley Hills built for rich sex cultists. We were celebrating her co-worker’s birthday, so there was no extramarital fornication. The place looked like it was owned by Jackie Treehorn from The Big Lebowski. There were dozens of little hideaways in the house and more than enough clues to indicate what usually goes on in this slightly feral architectural wonder is probably on the Eyes Wide Shut spectrum.

Like us, the celebrants were monogamous (as far as I know), and other than the possible destruction of a very expensive espresso machine, nothing too wild happened while we were there. That’s not the point of this story, anyway.

The Alameda Food Bank is a great organization. It deserves your donations and your time if you live near it. The money they receive is put to good use and almost all of it gets turned directly into food for the people who need it.

Most of the help needed from volunteers is sorting donated food in their warehouse or helping to hand it out on pickup days. If you’re able to pick up 50lb bags of apples and potatoes, you will be put to use hauling heavy things around and sorting them into more manageable sized  bags for people to take home. Most of my three hour shift was spent carrying large boxes around and bagging broccoli. I love this sort of work.

Mrs. Lott was assigned to the front of house and helped people shop when they arrived. This food bank has a very cool system where people are allowed to choose what they want ahead of time and volunteers guide them to different stations, making sure they get what’s on their list. The food is actually pretty healthy, there is a lot of produce and the packaged goods are solid staples.

The people who use the food bank come from all walks of life because food insecurity affects people from all kinds of backgrounds. The volunteers are about as diverse as the people they serve. About a dozen strong backed young men from a college fraternity worked alongside old white hippies, Chinese retirees, Mexican high school students and moms from Alameda. These are great people.

I made two new friends I hope to see again the next time I volunteer. The first was a retired motorcycle mechanic in his late 60s who has been riding Japanese motorcycles since the 70s. I always love talking to these grey-beard-gear-heads because I have a strong fondness for the bikes they rode when they were young. I love hearing about what it was like to buy a brand new KZ1000 from a dealership and smash it across the country. For some reason they always seem shocked that I owned a Yamaha RD400 and a Honda Dream in my 20s.

The second friend was a lady from the Philippines in her 60s. She survived breast cancer about 18 years ago and has been making a major go at life ever since. She eats healthy and goes to the gym all the time. Yesterday she went to two Zumba classes, speed walked on a treadmill for two hours and played basketball with her friends afterwards. Her energy was out of control.

I’m definitely going to make this a monthly thing. As much as the Alameda Food Bank appreciates the help, the truth is, I think I got more out of it than they did. I had really fun conversations and got a pretty solid workout in. But more than that, I got out of my own head for a little while. You can’t feel anxiety or any of the other bullshit that keeps you down when you’re serving others. It’s sort of like the Spartan thing, don’t worry about yourself, worry about the person next to you.

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to volunteer with me, I’d love you to be there. This is the real work that needs doing, not the self congratulatory nonsense political cosplay you see on the internet. That shit is for losers. Don’t be a loser. Be someone who helps people.

If you can’t make it out yourself, please consider a making donation: http://www.alamedafoodbank.org/donate/

mariachi

When I met my wife’s friend B___ he was wearing a black Fred Perry track suit, an 80s-Italian-guy-on-the-Jersey-Shore-meets-Compton-dope-dealer amount of gold jewelry. His hair and sunglasses were very Liam Gallagher.

We’d learn later that he was just getting a nice dope habit going, but for this night he was put together and months away from crashing. He and I hit it off fairly well. He seemed distracted by a dried out contact lens and kept jamming his eye, trying to induce tears to relieve his ocular suffering.

He was stumbling about on the edge of a dance floor when a brutal fight broke out between two goth girls. It wasn’t just a few shoves, either. It was a hair pulling, you stole my man, beat down that still ranks as one of the most intense fights I’ve ever seen in person.

B____ didn’t even look up. He wasn’t even interested. He just punched something into his Nokia and walked towards the bar. I remember thinking at the time, “this dude must be used to seeing some crazy shit if this brawl doesn’t even register.” That thought was confirmed as I grew to know him.

 

metairie

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans makes you a strange person. Metairie and Kenner are basically the burbs from Poltergeist, haunted by their great graveyard sister city to the east.

Construction is newer, but nothing is modern. It was old when it was new. If you tried to be a skateboarder in the 80s it was rough going. All the streets and sidewalks are broken, especially in the older neighborhoods.

We all imagined hands coming out of those cracks, at least I did. Everyone said they knew a haunted house. I’ve been in a bunch, but I never saw anything supernatural. Maybe one day the paint will peel and some wild creature will try to kill us all.